Coming of Print to York, c 1490–1550
CAN WE PUT a date to the advent of print
in York? An easy answer might be 1509, the year in which Hugo Goes
published the first known book with a York imprint, the Directorium
Sacerdotum.1 Another possible date is 1493, when John
Hamman or Hertzog printed the earliest surviving edition of a service book
of York use.2 It is likely, however, that the inhabitants of
York and the city’s hinterland had heard of, and had probably come into
contact with productions of the new technology of print a number of years
before 1493. An indication of the number of printed books imported into
the city on a commercial basis or acquired by individual readers is
occasionally available, but how do we, or even can we, interpret these
figures in order to assess the impact of print on the book trade of York?
When did the scribes first realize the threat of print to their business?
Was it after fifty, a hundred or a thousand books had been brought into or
produced in the city? In this paper I shall attempt to discover how
immediate and how dramatic were the consequences of print for the scribes
In order to assess the impact of print
on the York book trade a brief overview of the trade in printed books and
the early printing industry in York will be given. Through an analysis of
the freemen’s register of York and other prosopographical details, an
investigation will then be made of the manuscript copyists in the late
fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries and how they might have been
affected by the advent of print. The book artisans of York, like those of
most other European cities, are not known to have directly protested
against the use of printing technology, unlike, for example, the London
stationer, Philip Wrenne, who complained in around 1487 that ‘the
occupation ys almost destroyed by prynters of bokes’.3 Yet
the lack of evidence of protest does not mean that the scribes meekly
accepted the loss of their business for the sake of technological
progress. The attempts of the producers of manuscript books to safeguard
their livelihoods as revealed through their guild ordinances will be
It is likely that print first came to
York in the form of woodcut pictures. Sheets of paper decorated with
woodcut designs had been imported into Hull since the late fifteenth
century. Important uses of the paper would have been as wall-paper or
material for binding books.4 In 1471–2, for example, Maynard
Clauson brought a cargo of 120 painted papers into Hull.5 In
1493, as we have already seen, the first service book of York use, a
breviary, was produced in Venice. In the first decade of the sixteenth
century, printed books began to be mentioned in Yorkshire wills and
probate inventories in significant numbers. These included not only the
wealthy and powerful ecclesiastics such as Martin Collins, treasurer of
York Minster, who left at least fifty-three printed books at his death in
1508, but also some of the more humble clergy and laity.6 An
example is John Fell, a chantry priest of the Minister, who bequeathed
‘a boyk in prynt with a blak coveryng’ in 1506, and Jane Harper, the
widow of a York merchant, who mentioned a printed massbook in her will
An indication of the size of the trade
in printed books by the early part of the sixteenth century is revealed by
the large number of books imported into York by the stationer Gerard Freez
or Wanseford. At Wanseford’s death in 1510, a court case arose over his
importation of 252 missals, 399 breviaries and 570 picas from France.8
During this period, the trade in printed sheets also continued to grow.
Painted papers, for example, were imported to Hull in 1511 by Clemencele
Countay and in the next year by Harman Johnson, both times aboard ships
from Dieppe.9 London and Continental printers such as Pierre
Violette, François Regnault, Richard Pynson and Wynkyn de Worde were also
active in producing liturgical texts for the York market, sometimes in
partnership with York stationers.10 The most well-documented
York stationer who financed the production of texts abroad, aimed at the
York market, was John Gachet. At least six editions of service books were
printed in Rouen and Paris and then sent to Gachet for sale in the city.11
The surviving customs accounts of Hull record the importation of printed
books by Gachet between 1517 and 1526.12 Another York
stationer, Neville Mores, is also known to have imported books through the
port at Hull. Mores’s probate inventory, made at his death in 1538,
lists the 126 books in his shop at that time, valued at £3.3s.10d.13
It is likely that this list of books is only a small indication of
Mores’s business as, on 5 August 1520, Mores is known to have paid
customs dues on a cargo of printed books worth a higher value of £4.13s.4d.14 Printed
books were likewise imported through Hull by John Welles aboard the Bonaventure
of Dieppe on 16 August 1526.15 Welles can probably be
identified as the same John Welles who became free as a bookbinder in York
It is possible that the first press in
York was operated by Frederick Freez, the brother of the already mentioned
Gerard Freez or Wanseford, and who became free of the city as a bookbinder
and stationer in 1497.17 In 1510, during the proceedings of the
court case over the goods of Gerard Wanseford he was described as a
‘buke prynter’.18 Unfortunately none of his productions
have survived. Probably at the same time as Freez was printing, a press
was also operated at York by Hugo Goes. Goes is known to have printed
three texts in York, but only copies of his 1509 edition of the Directorium
Sacerdotum have survived.19 Two grammar books printed by
Goes, a Donatus and Accidence, have been described by Christopher Hildyard in the
seventeenth century but these texts are not known to have survived to the
Another press was operated in York from
around 1513 by Ursyn Milner. In that year, Milner produced a supplement to
the York breviary called the Officia
Nova.21 Another product of his press, a Festum
Visitacionis Beate Marie Virginis, has been described by Joseph Ames,
but there are no surviving copies.22 The colophon of the Festum
has also been found on two folio sheets used as endleaves to a printed
copy of Joannes Gaufredus, held in Hereford Cathedral Library.23
The colophons can be differentiated by minor variations in spelling, which
suggest that the waste sheets had been used as proofs. The Festum
was probably produced soon after 1513 when the feast was established by
statute at York.24 In 1516 Milner printed an edition of the
grammar of Whittinton, of which only one copy has survived.25
The last known sixteenth-century York
printer was John Warwick, who became free of the city in 1531.26
In 1532 Warwick produced an edition of the grammar of John Stanbridge.27
Warwick’s probate inventory, made in 1542, itemizes the contents of his
‘printing chamber’.28 Inside the room was stored ‘the
prysse with iij maner of letters with brasse letters iij matteresses with
all other thinges concernynge the prynthinge with glasse’, valued at £8.5s.
A stock of books, worth £22.10s.10d,
is also mentioned.
We might expect the scribes to have
viewed the coming of printed books and printing technology with dread and
fear as the market for books in York was filled with cheap texts printed
on paper. During the fifteenth century, there are indications that the
craft of writing was becoming more professional. Not only were there
increasing numbers of scribes obtaining the franchise, but also, more
terms were being used to describe their trade. From the early fourteenth
century, the York scribes were known as either ‘clericus’ or
‘scriptor’ in Latin, or ‘clerk’ and ‘scrivener’ in English. In
1419 the term ‘writer’ is first recorded in York to describe the trade
of a new freeman, Thomas Lymber.29 Other new freemen also used
this term in 1452, 1456 and 1470.30 In 1473 Richard Couke
appears in the freemen’s register as York’s first ‘textwriter’.31
He was followed, in 1479, by the textwriters Thomas Lemyng and Henry
Archer, and by William Sted and John Markynfeld in the early 1480s.32
During this period, the number of scriveners who became free of the city
also continued to rise. They included Thomas Benyt in 1478, John Calton in
1480 and Richard Riplyngham in 1484.33
The words ‘writer’, ‘textwriter’
and ‘scrivener’ may have been deliberately chosen to distinguish
different areas of expertise. Evidence of the activities of the scriveners
of York, for example, relates only to the production or authentication of
administrative and legal documents. The scrivener Adam Gunby, for example,
was paid 6d by the city chamberlains in 1449–50 for writing diverse bills
concerning the justices of the peace of the city.34 He also
frequently appears as a witness to legal documents between 1446 and 1476.35
In 1446 and 1475 he was appointed as an attorney.36 John Wodd,
who became free as a scrivener in 1486, is likewise known to have often
written out the last wishes of testators.37
The textwriters or writers, in contrast,
are likely to have specialized to a greater extent in the production of
books. In 1487 the textwriters formed a guild with the other book crafts
of the limners, noters, turnours and flourishers.38 The
ordinances of the guild refer specifically to the production of books. If
a foreigner (that is, a person who was not a member of the franchise)
wanted to sell books in the city, he was ordered to contribute to the
upkeep of the guild’s pageant in the Corpus Christi play. Evidence of a
textwriter producing a book can be seen in York Minster Library MS
Additional 30, a fifteenth-century missal of York use. The volume was
produced by at least seven different hands. One of the scribes can be
identified as Thomas Lemyng, a textwriter, who inscribed in the bottom
margin of folio 132r: ‘Thomas Lemyng dwellyng in Yorke’.39
This theory that a distinction was made
between the scriveners and textwriters is supported by a comparison with
earlier developments in the London book trade. During the late fourteenth
and fifteenth centuries, a specialist trade in writing books was
developing in London. In 1357 the mayor and aldermen of London issued an
ordinance which exempted the limners, barbers and scribes who wrote either
court letter or text letter from serving on sheriffs’ inquests. The
distinction made between writers of court and of text letter is
instructive: by the middle of the fourteenth century a contrast was being
made in London between the scribes who wrote and witnessed wills and other
legal deeds and those who produced books. A guild of the writers of court
letter was formed in 1373 and in 1403 an amalgamated mistery of
textwriters, illuminators and those who bound and sold books was formed.
The formation of separate misteries emphasized the distinction between the
two types of scribal activity. In other types of record, the separation of
scribes into scriveners and textwriters took a while longer to come into
general use. Yet, increasingly through the fifteenth century in London the
term scrivener came to refer only to legal writers.40
With the advent of print, there would
still have been a continuing need for the services of book scribes to
write texts which had not yet been printed, or were not available in print
locally. Manuscript books of music, for example, continued to be made
throughout the first half of the sixteenth century. William Prince, a
priest of York, was paid by the church of Louth to write song books in
1510 to 1513.41 The fabric rolls of York Minster likewise
include expenses to John Gibbons in 1518–19 for copying a number of
hymnals.42 In 1526, the church of St Michael, Spurriergate,
paid a friar to write a sequence and later three mass books in 1536.43
Yet despite this demand for manuscript
music books, it is clear that the printing of service books and grammar
texts within the city of York, and the import of a wide range of other
printed texts, particularly legal works, clerical manuals and vernacular
books, seriously affected the trade of the scribes. The term textwriter
quickly declined in York in the early sixteenth century. Fifteen
textwriters became free in the period 1450–1499, compared with only two
freemen between 1500 and 1549 and only one in the second half of the
sixteenth century. A likely explanation for this trend is that a fall in
the demand for manuscript books deterred new entrants to the craft of
textwriting. Furthermore, some of the textwriters in the city seem to have
decided to change their trade to scrivening. Henry Archer, for example,
had became free as a textwriter in 1479.44 But in his will,
proved in 1520, he described himself as a scrivener.45
Likewise, in 1483, John Markynfeld obtained the city’s freedom as a
textwriter, yet when he witnessed the will of Ninian Markenfeld, a knight,
in 1528, he was called a scrivener.46 Richard Middleton, who
had become free as a textwriter in 1512, appears in a register of bonds as
a scrivener in 1532.47
The craft of the scrivener continued to
attract new freemen throughout the first three-quarters of the sixteenth
century, which suggests that their trade was not greatly threatened by the
advent of print. During the second half of the fifteenth century eleven
scriveners became free of the city of York and a further ten in the first
half of the sixteenth century. Demand for the copying and authenticating
of wills, deeds, letters and other legal and administrative records
continued. Nevertheless, there is evidence that the scribes’ production
of indulgences began to be usurped by the presses during the early
sixteenth century. The York printer Ursyn Milner produced an indulgence
for the York guild of St Christopher and St George in 1519, and an
indulgence for the confraternity of St Mary of Mount Carmel in York was
printed in around 1520 by Richard Pynson.48 In 1527, widow
Warwick was paid 10s in the city
chamberlains’ accounts for ‘pryntyng of a thowsand breyffes’.49
This printed brief can also be identified as an indulgence, as in the same
year, 1527, the civic authorities were granted the right to issue an
indulgence to raise funds for rebuilding the Ouse Bridge.50 The
production of a large number of indulgences was necessary, as they were
intended for sale not just in York and its hinterland, but elsewhere in
England. The register of Charles Booth, bishop of Hereford, refers to a
licence to collect alms granted for the repair of the four bridges over
the Ouse and Foss on 10 December 1527.51 A commission by the
mayor of York, dated 30 April 1528, appointed two citizens as messengers
to collect gifts in the dioceses of Lincoln, Norwich and Ely for the
bridges.52 In 1530, indulgences were being sold to inhabitants
of southwest England by representatives of a York guild.53 The
advantage of printing technology for producing indulgences may also have
been capitalized on by the Dean and Chapter of York Minster, who had made
payments for the writing of indulgences during the fifteenth century. In
1469–70, for example, 17s.14d was paid for the writing of 312 indulgences.54 The
production of books was therefore not the only type of scribal activity
that was affected by the new technology of print. The printing of
indulgences in the early sixteenth century represents a significant loss
of work and revenue for the scribes.
The freemen’s register of York thus
gives an indication of some of the changes in the book trade after the
advent of print. Many of these changes can be dated to around the first
decade of the sixteenth century, at approximately the same time as the
first presses in the city were set up by Freez and Goes and as printed
books begin to appear in wills and probate inventories. What the
freemen’s register does not give us, however, is an indication of how
the scribes reacted to the threat of the new technology and how they might
have tried to safeguard their livelihoods. In the final part of this paper
I would like to put forward a suggestion that we can see a reaction
against print at least twenty years before the establishment of the first
York press. This reaction can be seen in the formation of the already
mentioned textwriters guild in 1487.
As we have seen, the ordinances of the
textwriters’ guild show a notable concern with the production of books.
This preoccupation is absent from the previous ordinances of the guild of
scribes called ‘escriveners de tixt’, which were registered in the
early fifteenth century.55 The late fifteenth-century
ordinances reveal an anxiety about the production of books by unofficial
part-time scribes and the consequent attempts of the guild members to
establish a monopoly for themselves. This is shown in the guild’s
dispute with a chaplain, William Incecliff. In 1486/7
Incecliff was fined 8s for
writing books without the freedom of the craft.56 The tensions
that this produced were revealed in 1487 when the textwriters Henry
Archer, Thomas Lemyug and John Markyngton on one side and Incecliff on the
other side were compelled to swear that they would do no bodily harm to
each other.57 An arbitration between the two parties decided
that Incecliff should be allowed to finish the two books he was making,
one of which was for his own use and the other for his chantry in the
chapel of Foss Bridge.58 He was also allowed to keep an
apprentice and sell any books that the two of them made as long as it was
for the upkeep of the apprentice and not for his own profit. Nevertheless,
despite the settlement with Incecliff, the conflict continued. Revised
regulations59 of the guild of textwriters were presented to the
civic authorities in 1491/2. The main changes
concerned the fines, indicating that the guild was experiencing
difficulties in asserting its authority. The fee for non-enfranchisement
was raised from 3s.4d
to 13s.4d; the fee to set up a
business was doubled; the fine on aliens was raised from 20s to 40s; and, perhaps
most interestingly, the fine on priests who wrote books without the
freedom of the craft was increased from 13s.4d
to 40s. It was agreed that no priest with a salary of seven marks or
above would be allowed to exercise the craft or to take an apprentice.60
In the conclusion of the dispute with Incecliff, he was allowed to finish
the books he was writing, but he could not take an apprentice and
henceforth he and other priests were only permitted to produce texts ‘to
ther awn proper use or to giffe in almose and charitie’.61
The production of books by part-time
unofficial scribes such as Incecliff was not new in the late fifteenth
century. Robert Wolveden, treasurer of York Minster, for example,
bequeathed a book in 1432 which had been written by a notary public, John
Arston.62 In 1443/4 a priest was employed by the mercers’
guild of York to rule lines onto sixteen pieces of parchment to make a
register book.63 A Dominican friar, John Roose, was also paid
for sheets of organ music by the Dean and Chapter of York Minster in 1458
and 1469.64 Why then did the textwriters begin to fight against
the part-time production of books in 1487?
The anxiety with book production in the
textwriters’ ordinances suggests that the writing of books was becoming
an increasingly important issue in the fifteenth century. The regulations
can be related to a certain extent to a growing market for books during
this period, which meant that the production of books formed a more
important part of the scribes’ work. A concern with the trade in books
might also have been caused by the advent of print. The scribes would have
heard reports of the new technology from travellers and small stocks of
books might have reached the city by this date. Although as we have seen,
the first known service book of York use was not published until 1493,
printed books of Sarum use were produced from around 1475 and could be
used without great difficulty.65 It is possible therefore that
the anxieties of the scribes were a response to the new technology of
print. By 1487 the number of printed books brought into the city might
already have been large enough for the professional scribes to suffer from
a loss of business and they responded by attempting to gain a monopoly of
the manuscript trade for themselves. Thus the ordinances seem to suggest
that print was already a looming threat or menacing presence in York by
the late 1480s, only a decade after Caxton produced his first book in
Westminster. The history of the coming of print to York therefore does not
start with the printing of the first service book of York use in 1493, or
the establishment of the first York press, or the mention of printed books
in Yorkshire wills, but with the self-protecting activities of the scribes
in the late 1480s.
1. A Short-Title Catalogue of Books Printed in England, Scotland and
Ireland and of English Books Printed Abroad, [ed]. Alfred William
Pollard & Gilbert Richard Redgrave, 2nd edn, revised by W A Jackson, F
S Ferguson & Katharine F Pantzer (London: The Bibliographical Society,
1976–91), 16232.4 [hereafter STC].
2. STC 15856.
3. C Paul Christianson, A
Directory of London Stationers and Book Artisans 1300–1500 (New
York: Bibliographical Society of America, 1990), 44n.
4. Wendy Childs [ed], The
Customs Accounts of Hull 1453–1490, Yorkshire Archaeological Society
Record Series, 144 (Leeds: Yorkshire Archaeological Society, 1984), 244;
Nicholas Pickwoad, ‘Onward and downward: how binders coped with the
printing press before 1800’, in A Millennium of the Book, [ed] Robin Myers & Michael Harris
(Winchester: St Paul’s Bibliographies; New Castle, DE: Oak Knoll Press,
5. Childs, Customs Accounts, 163.
6. York Minster Library,
7. York Minster Library,
Dean and Chapter probate register, vol 2, fol 56r–57r;
York, Borthwick Institute of Historical Research [hereafter BIHR], probate
register, vol 8, fol 98v–99r.
8. York Minster Library, Pi
(i) vii; E Brunskill, ‘Missals, portifers and pyes’, The
Ben Johnson Papers, 2 (1974), 20–33.
9. Public Record Office
[hereafter PRO], E 122/60/3, fol 4v; E 122/64/2, fol 21r.
10. A list of the York
service books printed in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries
has been compiled by Gordon Duff, ‘The printers, stationers and
bookbinders of York up to 1600’, Transactions
of the Bibliographical Society, 5 (1899), 87–107 (107), and revised
by William K Sessions, Les Deux Pierres: Rouen, Edinburgh, York (York: Sessions, 1982), 24.
11. STC 15858, 16135,
16221, 16223, 16250.5, 16251.
12. PRO, E 122/202/4, fol
18r; E 122/64/5, fol 3r, E 122/202/5, fol 4r.
13. BIHR, Dean and Chapter
original wills, 1538; D M Palliser & D G Selwyn, ‘The stock of a
York stationer, 1538’, The Library,
5th ser, 27 (1972), 207–19.
14. PRO, E 122/64/5, fol 21v.
15. PRO, E 122/202/5, fol
16. Francis Collins [ed], Register
of the Freemen of the City of York I: 1272–1558, Surtees Society, 96
(Durham: Andrews, 1897), 241.
17. Collins, Register, 221.
18. York Minster Library,
Pi (i) vii (8); Brunskill, ‘Missals’, 22.
19. STC 16232.4; Cambridge,
Sidney Sussex College, Bb.5.17 and York Minster Library, XI.N.31.
20. British Library
[hereafter BL], Harley 6115, 6.
21. STC 15861.3; Cambridge,
Emmanuel College, 4.4.21.
22. Joseph Ames, Typographical
Antiquities (London: Faden, 1749), 468.
23. STC 15861.3; Paul
Morgan, ‘Early printing and binding in York: some new facts’, The Book Collector, 30 (1981), 216–24.
24. R W Pfaff, New Liturgical Feasts in Later Medieval England (Oxford: Oxford
University Press, 1970), 59–60.
25. STC 25542; BL, 68.B.21.
26. Collins, Register, 250.
27. STC 23151; BL,
28. BIHR, Dean and Chapter
original wills, 1542.
29. Collins, Register, 128.
30. Collins, Register, 172 (Welles), 175 (Jameson), 190 (Letheley).
31. Collins, Register, 193.
32. Collins, Register, 200–1, 204, 206.
33. Collins, Register, 199, 201, 207.
34. York City Archives,
C3:2; R B Dobson [ed], York City
Chamberlains’ Account Rolls 1396–1500, Surtees Society, 192
(Durham: Andrews, 1980), 67.
35. York City Archives, E20
(A/Y Memorandum Book), fol 309v; E20A (B/Y Memorandum Book),
fol 85r, 96v, 138v, 156v.
36. York City Archives,
E20A, fol 132r, 133r, 137r.
37. Wodd is named as the
scribe in York, BIHR, Probate Register, vol 5, fol 402r, 418v,
472v, 473v and also appears as a witness to thirteen
wills, fol 378v–481v.
38. York City Archives,
E20A, fol 149r–150r. The meaning of ‘turnour’
is ambiguous, referring in general to those who turn or fashion things,
or, from the fourteenth century, a translator, and a ‘noter’ is a
writer of musical scores: Robert E Lewis, Middle
English Dictionary (Ann Arbor, 1956–1993), VI, 1098, XII, 1182.
39. A mid-fifteenth century
date has been suggested for MS Additional 30, but as Lemyng became free of
the city of York in 1479, it is more likely that it was written in the
last quarter of the century. N R Ker & A J Piper, Medieval
Manuscripts in British Libraries (Oxford: Oxford University Press,
1969–92), 4: 800; Collins, Register,
40. Christianson, London
41. Reginald C Dudding
[ed], The First Churchwardens’
Book of Louth 1500–1524, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1941),
42. York Minster Library,
43. BIHR, PR Y/MS/4, fol 61r,
125v; Dudding, Churchwardens’
Accounts, I, 166, 179.
44. Collins, Register, 200.
45. BIHR, Probate Register,
vol 9, fol 96v–97r.
46. Collins, Register, 206; BIHR, Probate Register, vol 9, fol 407r–408r.
47. Collins, Register, 235; York City Archives, F86, fol 17v.
48. STC 14077c.84,
49. York City Archives,
CC3, fol 188v. I owe many thanks to Jennifer Kaner for this
50. BIHR, Archbishop’s
Register, vol 27, fol 131r.
51. Arthur Thomas Bannister
[ed], Registrum Caroli Bothe,
Episcopi Herefordensis, Canterbury and York Society, 28 (London:
Canterbury and York Society, 1921), 358.
52. York City Archives,
53. Robert Whiting, The
Blind Devotion of the People: Popular Religion and the English Reformation
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989), 113.
54. York Minster Library,
55. York City Archives,
E20, fol 21r.
56. York City Archives,
C4:1; Dobson, Chamberlains’
Account Rolls, 178.
57. York City Archives, B6,
58. York City Archives, B6,
59. York City Archives, B6,
60. Seven marks was the
average annual wage of a chantry priest during the late fourteenth and
early fifteenth centuries: Jenny Kermode, Medieval
Merchants: York, Beverley and Hull in the Later Middle Ages
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 128.
61. York City Archives,
E20A, fol 162v–3r.
62. York Minster Library,
Dean & Chapter probate register, vol 1, fol 235r–6r.
63. York, Merchant
Adventurers’ Hall, Mercers’ Guild draft account book 1443–5.
64. York Minster Library,
65. An example which
illustrates the use of Sarum books in the diocese of York is the bequest
of James Bathley, a chantry priest of Newark in 1517/8: ‘also I gif and
bequeth to the church of Hokerton … a portouse of York use with an other
of Salesbury use in prynt’; BIHR, Archbishop’s Register, vol 27, fol